A Simple Guide to Risk-Taking
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anais Nin
Would you consider yourself a risk-taker?
If you had asked me that question ten years ago, my answer would have been a resounding “no!”
I was too invested in the status quo, plus I had young children. I didn't want to do anything that might disrupt them. (A very convenient excuse, wouldn't you say?)
But in truth, I was simply afraid of risk.
I didn't like the unknown. I didn't feel comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. And I had a very imaginative way of picturing the most unpleasant outcomes to any risky decision or action. So I just avoided risk. Things were OK without it.
But taking a stance against risk means taking a stance against big opportunity and bold growth. That is the price of inner security. Any positive change, any personal evolution, any successful venture involves some element of risk.
People who have started new businesses, changed careers, gotten engaged, moved to a new city, written a book, started an exercise program, spoken to a stranger at a party, or traveled to a foreign country, have all accepted the chasm of risk that hovers between them and their goal or action.
Risk is sometimes a gaping gorge or it can be a narrow creek, but to the risk-taker, the width is never as scary as the perceived dark and bottomless depths of the abyss. What horrors lurk at the bottom if you start to cross over and fall?
If you've taken some risks in your life, you have probably fallen into the depths of a failed risk a few times. After the experience of a falling, you learn that hitting the bottom is rarely as painful as you perceived it to be. Once you get up and dust yourself off, you may have a few bumps and bruises, but you realize you're still alive. You haven't been swallowed up by the thing you feared so much.
Of course, the bigger the risk, the more uncertainty and fear will be present for you. But it's the big risks, the boldest moves, that often reap the greatest rewards. Very few things in life come with a guarantee. At some point, you must make the decision to either remain on the edge or take that leap of faith. It's never easy, but there are ways to make it easier — and maybe even a little fun.
Here's a little guidance to help you accept the inevitability of risk with change and growth, and to approach risk in a way that is thoughtful and realistic.
I always begin with awareness as a step in any new concept or strategy. So many of us stay stuck in beliefs simply because we don't know we have a choice. Often people avoid risk altogether, as I used to, because they believe the possible fallout if they fail will be too destructive to handle. And some people cling to the belief that every decision must feel 100% perfect before they will act. With risk, you win some and you lose some, and you won't get a certified letter in advance from the Wizard of Oz telling you the outcome. But if you approach risk intelligently, the odds usually fall in your favor, and the fallout is more manageable if you do fail. If you never approach risk at all, you will always stay where you are.
Before you begin the real work of planning for a risky decision, start with a vision of the positive outcome you hope to achieve with the risk. This will create some excitement and energy around the risk to counter-balance your fears. If you want to change jobs, visualize yourself in the perfect job you want. If you want to make a financial investment in a business, visualize your financial success and what you will do with the money. If you want to try skydiving, visualize yourself floating through the sky with an amazing view all around you, then landing safely. Write down your vision so you can refer to it through the process of planning your risky business.
Conduct whatever due-diligence is necessary for learning more about the decision or action you are considering. Read about it, learn what others have done, get the statistics, run the numbers, cover all of your bases to make sure you are completely and totally educated about this risk. Without this step, you double or triple your risk because you don't have the facts. The bigger the risk, the more preparation you will need. Make notes about your findings.
Pros and Cons
Write down a list of the potential pros and cons of taking this risk. You may not be able to anticipate all of them, but based on your research, write down as many as you can. Next to the cons, write down your best guess on the percentage of likelihood for each con you list. Pay particular attention to those you list as 40% or higher. Are these cons you could cope with if they happened? How would you cope with them? In general, do the pros outweigh the cons? Is the likelihood of success more or less than the likelihood of failure?
Don't go it alone. Seek out input from other people who are experts in this particular area and those whose opinion and wisdom you respect. Review your research and pros/cons with them. Talk through the possible outcomes and how you might handle a failed risk. Take notes on what each person has to say about your risk. Weigh their advice against your own thoughts and feelings. If they present a valid argument one way or another, don't dismiss it because it may not be what you want to hear.
If your risk might impact those close to you, especially a spouse and children, be sure you fully communicate your risky decision and share the research and feedback you've received. Family members can often fuel your fears because of their own fears at how your risk might impact them. In fact, they might outright reject your risk and initially refuse to participate or support it. Listen to their concerns mindfully, and do your best to address them. Most risky decisions must be made mutually by a married couple. It might take the help and support of a coach or counselor to lead you both through this decision.
If there is a way to “try out” your risky action before you fully commit, then do so. Get a feel for what you are about to jump into. This provides further information for making a sound decision.
We tend to sell ourselves short when it comes to our inner wisdom, intuition, and intelligence. If you have done the due diligence and communicated fully, sit quietly with your risk and see what you feel compelled to do. Look back a past decisions you have made and the results of them. Are you happy with the way you handled those decisions? Did you do the necessary work and planning? You will never feel completely at ease with a risky decision, but you can feel a level of trust that you have done your best, as evidenced by past decisions and actions.
The day will come when there is nothing more to consider, no one else to talk to, nothing left to communicate. If your planning and preparation has come down on the side of taking the risk, then you must take the leap. You haven't done all of this preparation work just to stand on the edge with your heart thumping like a kid on the end of a diving board for the first time. You've made the decision, so leap into it with a swan dive. Go for it with full gusto.
The greatest moment of risk-taking is the exhilarating moment immediately after taking it when you are no longer trapped by anxiety. You are in the air, between your angst-filled decision and the ultimate outcome. You've done it, and now you're perfectly free in this moment. And you are potentially moving toward a wonderful, exciting new chapter of your life.